What Is The Perfect Premium Flight Length?

What Is The Perfect Premium Flight Length?

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“Getting there can be half the fun!” I think that’s a phrase many in the miles & points world can relate to (and if you can’t relate, I totally get it — feel free to skip this post!).

When it comes to redeeming miles & points for premium cabin travel, I’ve always been sort of obsessed with “maximizing value.” Admittedly the definition of that changes over time.

Back in the day I defined that quite simply: redeeming as few miles as possible for as many hours as possible in top premium cabin products. Why fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo if you could fly from Los Angeles to Frankfurt to Bangkok to Tokyo, for example? 😉

But hundreds of flights and millions of flown miles later, my impression of the perfect amount of travel time has changed a bit. That’s probably largely because I’m older, and I don’t have the travel stamina I once had.

In this post I thought it would be fun to talk about a topic that some will surely be happy to geek out over — is there an ideal flight length when flying first or business class?

Are longer first & business class flights always better?

When you’re planning a premium cabin trip, what’s the marginal enjoyment from extra flying? Is a 16 hour Emirates first class flight twice as fun as an eight hour Emirates first class flight? Is the world’s longest flight (on Singapore Airlines between Singapore and New York) the world’s most fun business class flight?

After more long haul flights in my life than I can count, I’m not sure I agree anymore that longer necessarily equals better. When it comes to enjoying long haul flying, my general perception is as follows:

  • The first few hours are always most enjoyable, as you typically have a fantastic meal and are still “fresh”
  • Beyond that, the marginal enjoyment diminishes significantly — you might be full, tired, and a bit hungover, and if you’re anything like me, you might not be a great airplane sleeper
  • In my experience flights are almost always more fun when you’re starting your vacation rather than heading home
  • There’s more marginal enjoyment to be had with each hour for airlines with cool amenities, like bars, showers, etc.; for example, as much as I love Cathay Pacific first class, you’re pretty much confined to your seat (the horror!) 😉
The more onboard amenities, the longer I enjoy the flight!

With that in mind, I think I’ve figured out my ideal flight lengths. In other words, beyond these limits I get very little marginal enjoyment out of flights. The perfect first class flight is one where you can both enjoy the experience and arrive well rested… at least in most cases.

Perfect overnight flight length: ~12 hours

To me the perfect overnight flight length is 12 hours. If I really want to enjoy the flight, I typically like to stay awake for the first four hours, at least on an ultra long haul flight. That way I can enjoy a meal service, which takes maybe two hours, and then unwind with a movie or enjoy any other onboard amenities.

The new Emirates 777 first class is easy to enjoy

I’m not much of a sleeper, though ideally I’d get roughly six hours of sleep.

Emirates 777 first class bed

And that leaves me with two hours before landing to watch a couple more sitcoms, freshen up, and have a pre-arrival snack.

The ultimate Emirates first class snack

Most Cathay Pacific flights from the United States to Hong Kong are ~14-15 hours (not that I’ve taken many of those lately!), which is great, but usually the last couple of hours I’m ready for the flight to be over. Not that I’m not enjoying it, but rather that I’m not sure I’m happier onboard than I’d be in a “real” bed in a hotel, or at a “real” restaurant.

Perfect daytime flight length: ~8 hours

This might surprise some people, but I almost think the perfect daytime flight length is 7-8 hours, especially since I usually avoid sleeping on daytime flights. For example, an overnight Emirates flight from New York to Milan? That’s way too short to maximize. A daytime Emirates flight from Milan to New York? That’s perfect.

You can enjoy a nice meal…

Emirates Arabic mezze… mmm!

Then enjoy whatever onboard amenities there are and watch a movie…

You can’t fly Emirates’ A380 first class without showering!

And then have another meal before landing…

You can maximize your libation consumption onboard, and then arrive having had a great flight, even if you didn’t get any rest. And since you (hopefully) land in the afternoon or evening, you won’t have issues with checking into a hotel, and can go to bed at a reasonable hour.

So even if you have an amazing bed in first class, I don’t think maximizing a first class experience even has to include using it.

Bottom line

To 99% of people this probably sounds like a silly topic. But to those of us who actually enjoy the process of flying between places, I think it’s an interesting thing to discuss.

Admittedly there are lots of other factors that play into the “perfect” flight length — whether you’re traveling alone or with friends, how well rested you have to be when you land, exactly what time the flight leaves, whether you’re heading on vacation or returning, etc. But the above is my general philosophy, I suppose. I’m curious to hear how others feel.

If flying a top premium product, what do you think is the perfect flight length? What factors into that decision?

Conversations (39)
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  1. Mr. Nobody Guest

    I rarely sleep on flights no matter how long. And if i start to doze any slightiest turburlance will wake me. Just did AF La Première midday to evening flight. Pretty much spent 5 of the 7hr eating the whole time + 2 hrs in the lounge prior. Just tried the bed to see i fit, just barely ats 2 meter long, as i was waiting for the main meal.

  2. Azamaraal Guest

    It so depends. The first criterion is the aircraft. On the A340 or 777 long flights can become a nightmare because of the altitude and humidity and (often) high cabin temperatures. My favourite is the 787 as I always arrived refreshed compared to any other craft (even better than the 350).
    I detest flights shorter than 10 hours mainly because there is not enough time to sleep. With the 4 or 5 hours at...

    It so depends. The first criterion is the aircraft. On the A340 or 777 long flights can become a nightmare because of the altitude and humidity and (often) high cabin temperatures. My favourite is the 787 as I always arrived refreshed compared to any other craft (even better than the 350).
    I detest flights shorter than 10 hours mainly because there is not enough time to sleep. With the 4 or 5 hours at each end of the flight the air time (at altitude) becomes 50% of the total time effectively. My favourite time is between 16 hrs and (longest flight time). JFK-JNB is a favourite. DXB-SEA is good also except for the old tilt 77's. DXB-CPT isn't bad because it is daylight thus sleep not as important. YVR-SYD was great except the last time was on Qantas on an old 747 with minimal crew service and food. Perhaps LAX-SYD on the A380 would be better, but still Qantas. HKG-LAX on Cathay First was super but I think I slept too long and it was the second leg of JNB-LAX.
    Any flight in J/F is BETTER than any flight in Y. My last flight on QR when I was mistakenly downgraded from Q-suite to Row 43 was the most miserable 16 1/2 hours of my life.

  3. Jonathan Guest

    Agree with the 12 hour overnight time. Did Auckland-Dubai on Emirates in J and that was too long. Anything longer than enough time to sleep and not feel rushed is not necessary.

    I would say daytime flights could be shorter than 8 hours. I flew MUC-ORD in LH First and was for sure ready for the flight to be over by the end. Wouldn’t have believed it if you had told me but it’s true.

  4. richyjoye New Member

    Of course the answer is ... it depends.
    I would say on a proper First and Business class, meaning private room/cabin, I don't mind 14h+. On an average narrow business class, crowded like Air France, Iberia, Swiss, I would say 12h is a max max....

  5. Dragonbaby Guest

    Oh I totally get this. I have thought about this quite a bit myself. Overnight I would say 14 hours is a good length. I love the 14 hour overnight flight arriving at the destination first thing in the morning, best way to beat jetlag. Did Perth to London (16 hours) that was ok as well, plenty of time to sleep/rest and didn't feel rushed. Day flight I agree 7-8 hours in J is good.

  6. YULtide Gold

    If getting there isn't half the fun, you're doing something wrong.

    Seriously, less than about 9 hours TATL is too short for decent sleep.

  7. Brad C Guest

    14-15 hours is the perfect flight length when getting a full 8 hours of sleep. Anything less and it feels rushed and invariably cuts into getting fully rested. Anything longer than 16 hours starts to feel mundane towards the end of the flight after sleeping and eating as much as possible.

  8. Eskimo Guest

    @Lucky

    It's not because you grow old or have less travel stamina.
    It's because you have a family and other priorities in life to spend time with.

    Without Winston, Ford, and now Miles, or your parents aging, you'd still be living in hotels and flying the wrong way to Tokyo until you're 60 or run out of cash+points. You retire because you have top lifetime status on every alliance every hotel chain every car...

    @Lucky

    It's not because you grow old or have less travel stamina.
    It's because you have a family and other priorities in life to spend time with.

    Without Winston, Ford, and now Miles, or your parents aging, you'd still be living in hotels and flying the wrong way to Tokyo until you're 60 or run out of cash+points. You retire because you have top lifetime status on every alliance every hotel chain every car rental. Been to every luxury hotel every premium cabin on points until there is no more milestone or products to chase anymore.

  9. JonO Guest

    Just did DXB-MIA in Emirates new first which I guess is an anomaly and was related to sand storms and equipment change in DXB - having previously flown it from CDG-DXB was excited to put it through its paces but after 2.5 hours holding on ground, a loud/annoying crew and a less comfy bed than I was expecting, I could not wait to bolt and felt bad for those behind the curtain……always room for improvement...

    Just did DXB-MIA in Emirates new first which I guess is an anomaly and was related to sand storms and equipment change in DXB - having previously flown it from CDG-DXB was excited to put it through its paces but after 2.5 hours holding on ground, a loud/annoying crew and a less comfy bed than I was expecting, I could not wait to bolt and felt bad for those behind the curtain……always room for improvement but why skimp on pillow/bedding quality when spending millions on “mood” lighting…..meh!! Less than 11 hours here!!!

  10. Christian See Guest

    As someone based in Singapore, SG to most of Europe is abt 12-13hrs, and just so happen to depart at midnight, meaning you get a half meal + breakfast, which is somewhat annoying.

  11. Amit Guest

    Ben - loving this topic! As an avid flyer, and lover of longhauls, my sweet spot has been HKG-JFK on CX at about 15 hours. I am pretty good at sleeping on flights, especially if its a work trip which in my case it usually is and I've had a busy few days. I find that spot allows a full meal plus a movie and some tv episodes, followed by a good 8 hours of...

    Ben - loving this topic! As an avid flyer, and lover of longhauls, my sweet spot has been HKG-JFK on CX at about 15 hours. I am pretty good at sleeping on flights, especially if its a work trip which in my case it usually is and I've had a busy few days. I find that spot allows a full meal plus a movie and some tv episodes, followed by a good 8 hours of shut eye and then still 4 hours or so to go to enjoy another meal etc.
    I loved CX 840 and 846 as it allowed me a full days work in Hong Kong and a night arrival into JFK where I'd still be tired enough to sleep the night and get over jetlag. On the return my preferred flight was CX 831 as again an evening arrival meant I could sleep and be ready for work the next day. For the year that I lived in HK I did this trip once a month, usually in F using upgrade miles and loved it. I find the SIN-NYC 18 hours a tad too long and don't like SQ's structured dining approach.
    Dine on Demand for me is crucial to enjoying a long haul flight.
    I didn't enjoy the EK departure from DXB to the US as much as the morning departure and afternoon arrival meant a very fatigued afternoon. In the days when EK 207/206 was operating (the afternoon departure from both DXB and JFK) I did enjoy those. Sadly that flight is no more.
    I find for me the 16 hour mark is my threshold at which point I am itching to get off. I wonder what the experience will be look on the project sunrise QF flights

  12. SF_OH Guest

    Being a Los Angeles-based flyer, my experience may vary from others. 10-12 hours is my preference, but I always really liked the LAX-SYD and LAX-HKG flights departing at night. And the return, being a few hours shorter, worked perfectly for me too. Europe is backwards as the longest leg is the flight home. It certainly is a niche topic but an important one!

    I have several times done DXB-LAX and just find it so brutal....

    Being a Los Angeles-based flyer, my experience may vary from others. 10-12 hours is my preference, but I always really liked the LAX-SYD and LAX-HKG flights departing at night. And the return, being a few hours shorter, worked perfectly for me too. Europe is backwards as the longest leg is the flight home. It certainly is a niche topic but an important one!

    I have several times done DXB-LAX and just find it so brutal. The morning departure means I'm generally already well-rested from the night before. And it's just 16+ hours of daytime that stretches on for eternity. Back when Cathay operated a daytime LAX-HKG (also a morning departure) I had a similar experience. 15+ hours and by the 11th hour, I was definitely ready to disembark.

  13. Petri Diamond

    I love the 14+ hour flights, even in J, day or night. On board is the only place where I can sleep 8, sometimes 10 hours straight. Phone totally switched off. The only problem is to stay awake until the meal service. I am like one of those Pavlov's dogs, every time, when I hear the engines starting I start to fall asleep.

  14. Fredd Member

    I agree with your general rules-of-thumb. That being said, we thoroughly enjoyed flying SQ 22 SIN-EWR back in 2019, and we've arrived well rested after several of our flights to Oz Fest. Count us among those who try to avoid the shorter overnight flights like, say, JFK-LHR.

  15. TM Gold

    Regardless of the cabin, the route and timing of the flight can make a big difference. For me the worst long hauls are midday departures that still arrive early the next morning at your destination. Technically, it's an overnight flight but it leaves so early in the day that by the time I'm ready to sleep, the flight is nearly over. The Australia to west coast North America flights are particularly bad for this.

  16. Mario Guest

    In Business I am happy to deplane after 8 to 10 hours, after that the seat gets uncomfortable and cramped. In international First 12 to 14 hours are fun and just perfect :-)

  17. Syd Guest

    Agree on all points, daytimes 100%. Overnights though, I can never complain about doing 13-14-15 hours in a great product.

  18. AlanD Guest

    Agreed pretty much! The worst thing is an eastbound transatlantic flight in winter where the tail wind can take an extra hour off the flying time. I like to have 2-3 hours before going to sleep. That often leaves only 2-3 hours to sleep before noisy breakfast chinaware clanking and constant announcements.

    On the long end, anything 13+ hours is always dangerous in case you pick up ground delays or have to circle. No matter...

    Agreed pretty much! The worst thing is an eastbound transatlantic flight in winter where the tail wind can take an extra hour off the flying time. I like to have 2-3 hours before going to sleep. That often leaves only 2-3 hours to sleep before noisy breakfast chinaware clanking and constant announcements.

    On the long end, anything 13+ hours is always dangerous in case you pick up ground delays or have to circle. No matter how comfortable the surroundings things can get old quickly.

    1. pstm91 Diamond

      I always go back and forth on this because that first day is brutal, but at the same time it's nice getting there so quickly. My system is to stay up the first day without napping, making it to at least 10:00pm, then waking up by 8:30/9:00am the next morning. That gets me on the time change immediately. But yeah, that first day is a struggle.

  19. Airfarer Diamond

    I presume we are only referring to Emirates or similar in F. US, AA, DL, KL and others in business would certainly not be suitable for a 12 hour ride.

    1. JWags Guest

      This is hilariously snobby, arrogant, and plain wrong. I'm hoping its just good satire

  20. Frank B Member

    As a west coast resident, that extra few hours to Europe is an absolute godsend. 10 hours vs. 7 is the difference between getting actual REM sleep and just whatever you can get between lights out after dinner and lights on for breakfast. Going to Asia, both work. I'm going to find out about ultra long haul in February. My LAX - SIN is blocked at 17:50.

  21. Don Guest

    I'd actually agree, 12 hours is about right.

    Anything under 10 is just too short to really relax.
    I've only done one flight at 15+ hours, but it was totally fine too.

    The 7-9 hour flights are brutal. Did another this weekend. Even in J/F, it's just not enough time for anything.

  22. Brianair Guest

    I second the idea that flights the length of New York to Western Europe, Japan to Hawaii, or Hawaii to the middle of the mainland US (like Texas) are too short to get decent sleep on. Don’t even get me started with Hawaii to the west coast, transcons, or Europe to the Middle East. Going eastbound, the sky moves more quickly, so you don’t experience as much darkness as you should.

    Are there airlines where...

    I second the idea that flights the length of New York to Western Europe, Japan to Hawaii, or Hawaii to the middle of the mainland US (like Texas) are too short to get decent sleep on. Don’t even get me started with Hawaii to the west coast, transcons, or Europe to the Middle East. Going eastbound, the sky moves more quickly, so you don’t experience as much darkness as you should.

    Are there airlines where you can recline or lie flat your first or business class seat during takeoff?

  23. Mike C Gold

    Having travelled in both Y and J across the Pacific, I was interested in this. Flying SYD-DFW I found sleeping the extra hour or so meant that the experience was no different than SYD-LAX. I have yet to try the SQ SIN-EWR flight but expect it won't be hard to manage meals and sleep on that flight. If the flight is longer, sleep longer or stretch a meal service. It'll be over before you know it.

  24. Ella Guest

    I’m a decent sleeper/serial napped onboard, so for me an overnight is best at 10 - 16h, and a day flight maybe max 10. Food, drink, maybe a movie or two and time just not to be responsible for anything fills the rest of the hours.

  25. JWags Guest

    Given my business travel, I usually save my upgrades and expense splurges on long haul travel to India and SE Asia. So I was accustomed to that J class experience. But I remember the first time I got bumped from Premium Economy to Business flying ORD-BRU, as standby was completely full for economy but business had openings. Had dinner, drinks, and such as I normally would. Then slightly buzzed laid down to sleep. Waking up...

    Given my business travel, I usually save my upgrades and expense splurges on long haul travel to India and SE Asia. So I was accustomed to that J class experience. But I remember the first time I got bumped from Premium Economy to Business flying ORD-BRU, as standby was completely full for economy but business had openings. Had dinner, drinks, and such as I normally would. Then slightly buzzed laid down to sleep. Waking up 3-4 hours later, in the middle of REM sleep, with less than an hour to go until left my disoriented and groggy.

    Coming back to the US from Europe, during the day, in premium is far more enjoyable.

    But I echo some of the others here. Given the migration to all aisle access seats in the vast majority of J cabins, I'll fly as long as it takes. I had an ANA flight from NRT to ORD that I wished was twice as long.

    Hell, I flew from HKG back to ORD in J. Plane sat on the runway for an hour with mechanical issues, before we were towed off to a different portion for further maintenance. All in all, left around 2.5 hours late. Flew only to SFO, as the crew had timed out over the Pacific. Was on the ground for around 2 hours total, including landing, crew switch, checks, and then departure. And then the 3.5 hours on to Chicago. A normal 15 hour trip was closer to 21-22...and I wasn't the least bit uncomfortable in a nice window pod with a thoughtful and helpful flight crew.

  26. Andrew Guest

    Flying DFW to DOH to SYD in Qsuites and in F on their A380, so I’ll be putting this question to the test! Asia miles routing rules get a little crazy.

  27. RJ Guest

    Of course the answer is ... it depends.
    I would say on a proper First and Business class, meaning private room/cabin, I don't mind 14h+. On an average narrow business class, crowded like Air France, Iberia, Swiss, I would say 12h is a max max....

  28. D3kingg Guest

    Ultra long haul is king. 14 hrs between US and Asia in business class is the most relaxing. I plan on sleeping a few intervals , eating and drinking , wearing PJs, and some IFE. Again , it’s relaxing not a luxurious experience.

    If it’s going to be a once in a life time luxurious first class experience I don’t want to sleep. US Europe 7-8hrs I want to enjoy the food and beverage and service.

  29. Tahsin Member

    Great take. After reading the title and before clicking I thought in my head, 12 hours... and this article pretty much sums up my views too, also not being a great sleeper on the plane.

  30. Willem Guest

    My longest business class flight topped out at 16 hours from Johannesburg to EWR last year... even with the reduced amenities due to COVID, I felt all the time on the plane was well spent. 2 hours for takeoff and dinner, a staggering 11 hours asleep (granted, I had just finished a 2 week driving trip in Namibia and was exhausted from that), and the final 3 hours for breakfast, a movie, and sunrise over...

    My longest business class flight topped out at 16 hours from Johannesburg to EWR last year... even with the reduced amenities due to COVID, I felt all the time on the plane was well spent. 2 hours for takeoff and dinner, a staggering 11 hours asleep (granted, I had just finished a 2 week driving trip in Namibia and was exhausted from that), and the final 3 hours for breakfast, a movie, and sunrise over New Jersey's blanket of fall colors.

    Even for daytime flights, I can usually "nap" after the [drinking during the] meal service, so even 10-12 hour daytime flights I usually don't get bored. The one exception would be when I flew the Etihad 787 from Abu Dhabi to IAD, a 14-hour westbound where I picked a window facing the sun (which gets hot with the Dreamliner windows). I was ready for that flight to be over once we landed in Washington DC.

    I took premium economy on the 18 hour segment from Singapore to Newark as a "red eye". I sat down and slept the first 11 hours... (had been awake the prior 24 hours). After that, it was quite easy to pass the 2 meals and remaining 7 hours of flight time!

    1. JWags Guest

      Agreed. I regularly take the BOM to EWR flight (well pre-Ukraine). After a long work week and a departure that is usually around 1 AM. I love knowing that I can push myself to exhaustion and not rush dinner/movie on departure, sleep a full 8-9 hours in a nice lay flat bed, and then wake up with a good bit of time to have some tea, wake up, and get all the groggy out before landing in the earlier end of the morning in Newark. In that case, 14-15 hours is great.

  31. Ian Guest

    Really great post! Do you ever take premium economy? If TATL is too short, this is a nice happy medium where the expense may not be worth it. Also would love some follow up for longer flights, do you prefer a stop to stretch your legs and move around?

  32. Alvin Guest

    "as much as I love Cathay Pacific first class, you’re pretty much confined to your seat (the horror!)"

    Fair enough, considering you're (probably) then confined to a quarantine hotel for three days...

    1. Donna Diamond

      While some subscribe to the notion that “getting there is half the fun,” I’m more in the camp of, “getting there shouldn’t be torture.” After decades in the back of the plane for long hauls, anything with a decent seat, a fully flat bed, light traffic, aisle access and no one close by is fine. Perfect is around 8 to 9 hours.

    2. Donna Diamond

      @Alvin - meant to post this in general comments, not directed at your response. My bad.

    3. Brianair Guest

      I don’t like Cathay Pacific first class or Emirates first class of any 1-1-1 product because you can’t lie down together with a couple and make a double bed. The Cathay seat is old, dating back to the days they flew passenger quads and the brush wing logo was inside a rectangle, so it lacks features like privacy that newer seats have. Singapore and Air France have the perfect first class.

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Frank B Member

As a west coast resident, that extra few hours to Europe is an absolute godsend. 10 hours vs. 7 is the difference between getting actual REM sleep and just whatever you can get between lights out after dinner and lights on for breakfast. Going to Asia, both work. I'm going to find out about ultra long haul in February. My LAX - SIN is blocked at 17:50.

3
Airfarer Diamond

I presume we are only referring to Emirates or similar in F. US, AA, DL, KL and others in business would certainly not be suitable for a 12 hour ride.

2
Don Guest

I'd actually agree, 12 hours is about right. Anything under 10 is just too short to really relax. I've only done one flight at 15+ hours, but it was totally fine too. The 7-9 hour flights are brutal. Did another this weekend. Even in J/F, it's just not enough time for anything.

2
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